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Emphasize education that benefits patients, too
With budgets tight and time scarce, it can be difficult to find ways to give staff members the opportunities they need to develop to their full potential. That’s particularly true when it comes to helping case managers achieve appropriate certifications. But, experts say, there are some inexpensive techniques that can not only help staff achieve its objectives, but can also increase cooperation in your facility and improve patient care.
For example, at Prentice Women’s Hospital, a division of Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, nurses and case managers are encouraged to cross-train in related departments. "I have some staff [members] who would very much like to learn labor and delivery or special care nursery, but they don’t want to transfer off their home unit," says Karen Waltenbaugh, BSN, MS, clinical nurse manager at Prentice. "So what we’ve tried to do is link them up with a manager in those areas and ask if she can be fit into the schedule for a couple of weeks." Having staff work in different areas and learn overlapping skills has helped the departments work together more efficiently and created a greater sense of camaraderie among staff.
What’s made cross-training successful at Prentice, however, has been making it elective rather than mandatory. No one is forced to spend time in other departments. For those who choose not to cross-train, other options for staff development are available. For example, when it became clear that a large number of patients wanted to learn infant cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), Waltenbaugh encouraged staff to become certified not just in infant CPR but in teaching it to others. "We’ve been looking at educational opportunities in that direction, and some of them are really inexpensive," Waltenbaugh says.
Waltenbaugh also has made use of a lactation consultant to educate key staff about breast-feeding. "On quiet days, we will link them up with the consultant and let them follow her around for the entire day so they can learn tips from her," Waltenbaugh says. "We’ve tried to get them to the point where they’re considered breast-feeding experts on the unit and are sought out by their peers to help out when there are problems. It’s become a kind of peer recognition issue."
One key piece of staff development has been to encourage case management staff to achieve the certifications they need in order to advance their careers and add prestige to the department. Because of the fairly high dropout rate, Prentice doesn’t pay for staff to take preparatory courses, but the hospital does pay for staff to take the actual certification test.
Once staff have become certified, it’s important to support their efforts to maintain their certification. Unfortunately, some employers make it virtually impossible for case managers to do the necessary work, such as obtaining the 80 credit hours needed to maintain the Certified Case Manager (CCM) credential offered by the Commission for Case Manager Certification in Rolling Meadows, IL.
"It’s to the employers’ benefit to allow case managers the time and resources necessary to maintain their certifications," notes Marcia Diane Ward, RN, CCM, project manager in small/medium business global marketing industries for IBM in Atlanta. "The benefit is that employers go out to market their services with this statement: We hire only certified case managers.’ Increasingly, health care organizations can’t receive accreditation for their case management services from national accrediting organizations unless their staff includes certified case managers."
Here are five suggestions to help case managers meet their educational needs:
1. Set aside dedicated funds early in the fiscal year to pay for conference and workshop attendance.
"Conference planners are now making concessions for the financial crunch faced by case managers," notes Ward. "Some conferences offer one-day passes, discounts for more than one attendee from the same organization, and other incentives. Don’t be afraid to ask about potential discounts. Barter, if you must. No one is more creative at negotiation than a case manager; use it to your own advantage."
2. Allow time off to attend local chapter meetings of your professional organizations.
State and local chapters of national professional organizations, such as the Case Management Society of America in Little Rock, AR, offer inexpensive continuing education opportunities, Ward says. "These groups usually meet once a month, and they bend over backwards to accommodate employer schedules," she says, adding that many groups meet early in the morning or on Saturday.
3. Hire a clerical support person or give a case manager time to search the Internet for educational opportunities.
"Try to get your employer to pay a case manager overtime to gather information on the Internet and then share it with other case managers at a lunch-and-learn session," Ward suggests. "Many case managers don’t have the time to surf the Internet for the many educational Web sites. Some of these sites offer continuing education credits for health care professionals."
4. Provide educational opportunities in the workplace.
For example, some organizations have begun offering programs for nurses with associate’s degrees who want to advance their careers by earning a BSN, says Deloras Jones, RN, MS, director of divisional nursing for Kaiser Permanente California Divi sion in Oakland. Kaiser’s nursing degree program is a joint effort between Kaiser’s California Division and Holy Names College in Oakland. Instead of hurrying from work to a college campus for studies, students attend classes one night a week via teleconference in classrooms at the Kaiser medical centers where they work.
Since the program began, 96 Kaiser nurses have earned their BSN degrees and 200 currently are enrolled in classes. "It takes most of our nurses two and one-half years to complete their degrees," Jones says. "Kaiser doesn’t pay for nurses’ tuition, but we were able to negotiate a low rate because the program is generating revenue for the college."
In addition, Kaiser offers continuing education courses for no fee or a nominal fee to its nurses on a routine basis. "It’s really important for leaders in the health care industry to partner with educators to ensure the ongoing competencies of their work forces."
5. Subscribe to publications that offer continuing education hours.
Take advantage of continuing education opportunities available through professional publications. "Many case management and nursing publications offer continuing education credits," notes Ward. It’s not as stimulating as networking with your peers at conferences, but if your organization doesn’t allow you time off to attend professional meetings, these publications may be a viable option for you.
"Case managers must reclaim their autonomy as professionals," Ward urges. "Your employer needs you to maintain your certifications and professional licenses, and that requires continuing education. Explain [to your employer] that continuing education is not an option — it’s a necessity."
For more information, contact:
Karen Waltenbaugh, BSN, MS, clinical nurse manager, Prentice Women’s Hospital, 333 East Superior St., Chicago, IL 60611. Telephone: (312) 908-7580.